Preparing for a wedding is a monumental task and even more so when you live abroad while planning for the big day to be back home. One of the most significant items I had to check off my list is purchasing my dress. The catch is…I live in China, away from the usual bridal shops like David’s Bridal, J. Crew, or Anthropologie in the United States. I pinned dresses from sites like Etsy and Pinterest, keeping in mind that by the time I arrived back in Brooklyn for the summer, I would have maybe three weeks to buy a dress, have it fitted, and find the matching accessories.
I started talking to my friends here in China about dress shopping, and one of them mentioned Guangzhou Wedding Dress Street where you can find great dresses for as low as 600 RMB (approximately $100). I thought to myself, “a WHOLE STREET!?” Upon doing more research, I learned very quickly that Guangzhou Wedding Dress Street (aka Jiangnan Dadao Bei (江南大道北)) was not just a street, but a WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD dedicated to all things nuptial, including men’s suits/tuxedos, wedding accessories, and bridesmaid dresses for amazingly cheap prices.
My girlfriends and I decided to make a weekend of the wedding dress shopping adventure.
We live in Shenzhen which is only an hour and a half away from Guangzhou by car or 30 minutes away by bullet train. We picked a weekend where we would all be available and left Shenzhen on Friday right after work. Guangzhou, once known as Canton, is the provincial capital of Guangdong province in southern China. It is a large sprawling city split in the middle by the Pearl (Zhujiang) River. Wedding Dress Street is right by the river in the Textile Residential District – home of Guangzhou’s manufacturing industry. Wanting to stay close to this district, I picked the Howard Johnson Riverview Hotel which is just one stop away from the Wedding Dress Street area on the subway. The area around the hotel is great – right next to the river and near many cool restaurants and bars.
That night my friends and I opted for a Cantonese seafood feast near our hotel. I affectionately call this restaurant “The Aquarium.” It is live seafood in tanks where you pick the critter, and they prepare it for you however you like it. Armed with two friends – fellow Asian Americans – who spoke Cantonese and Mandarin, this was a lot of fun. I was able to relive moments of my childhood going with my dad to Oakland’s Chinatown to buy fish.
Saturday after breakfast, we took the subway and got out at the 2nd Workers’ Cultural Palace stop on the metro and found our way to the dresses. After a few blocks of walking, we realized that this area of Jiangnan North – wasn’t too populated with dress shops, so we turned back and kept walking until the shops started to pop up. At our first shop – I was overwhelmed by the volume of dresses and their designs. They all had intricate beading and tulle. The dresses were beautiful, but not my style. Furthermore, bear in mind that I am Filipino American – a few sizes bigger than the average Chinese bride. Trying some of the A-line princess-like dresses felt like a massive squeeze. My friends and I had a huge kick during the fittings partly because the whole process getting fitted with the Chinese shop worker pulling the dress over me was quite a bit of work.
One of my friends made an emoji of me and several thumbs up and thumbs down for us to use during the fittings. After trying the big fancy dresses, I made it clear that I was looking for a simpler look – no beading and a dress that would be easier to manage in a Brooklyn loft space – our wedding venue. To help manage my frustration, we started showing the shops pictures of dresses from my Pinterest account, which made it much faster to decide if we would stay in a shop or move on. The shop owners were also very helpful in letting us know if they had dresses or not and some also said the simpler style I wanted was considered a bridesmaid dress to them. Armed with that new knowledge, my friends and I looked for bridesmaid dresses. We also opted to walk into one of the alleys just off of the main road.
We hit the jackpot.
The first shop we saw had some interesting designs and simpler dresses that fit what I was looking for. I tried on a couple of dresses, and we decided to keep looking, but bookmarked the place in our heads to go back. Upon turning the corner, we saw this little shop that had many designs that caught my eye. It turned out to be the shop with the dress. Not too much tulle, easy to move around, no long train, and a beautiful pattern. The moment my friend held it up against me for others to see – everyone agreed it was perfect. However, the prototype would only fit half of me. They had to make it from scratch. This is when I let my two Chinese speaking buddies take over. I sat with my dress as they spoke to the shopkeepers. They turned to me and said – “let’s get some dim sum so you can think about it and then we’ll come back so they can measure you if that’s the dress you want.” My friends know me all too well – never let me make decisions whilst hungry.
Off we went to celebrate the finding of the dress over some dim sum and chrysanthemum tea. Dim sum is quintessentially Cantonese. There are other variations from different regions – but the dim sum many Westerners are familiar with is Cantonese – which also includes the food from nearby Hong Kong. I was excited to be in Guangzhou to have Cantonese dim sum. My friends researched food places before heading to Guangzhou so the place we went to, Dim Dou Dak 點都德(聚福楼), is just a quick 10-minute walk from the dress shop. It did not disappoint.
Once we made our choices – out came platters of shrimp dumplings (har gow), pork buns (siopao), pork dumplings (siaomai), noodles, and sesame balls with red bean paste (jian dui). A feast for six women. ALL for the whopping price tag of 375 RMB ($55USD).
After filling our bellies, we returned to the dress shop. My friend Deborah served as my translator, and we worked out all the details I wanted with the dress. The shopkeeper took my measurements twice to make sure it was accurate and then gave me their final price. 760 RMB ($108USD) for a custom-made dress including the cost of shipping it to Shenzhen. After finding the dress and paying such a great price, I felt like I won the marathon. I was relieved and had plenty of time to enjoy the neighborhood before we needed to catch our train back to Shenzhen. Walking off the main street into the alleys was fun because we not only saw more variety with the dresses, but it was great to see the actual neighborhood with its narrow streets, shops, and locals.
Saying yes to the dress can be a stressful task, and I am fortunate to have a great group of friends here in Shenzhen that helped me find the right dress and have fun while doing it. Moreover, taking the shopping adventure to Guangzhou meant that I was exploring another new neighborhood and adding to my catalog of fun-filled experiences living in Asia. Wedding Dress Street is a vibrant place full of so much character and a must-see for anybody heading to Southern China, even if you’re not shopping for a dress.
Guangzhou Wedding Dress Street
Jiangnan Dadao Bei
Best way to get there
via metro stop – 2nd Workers’ Cultural Palace exit D
Where to eat
Dim Dou Dak
Where to stay
Howard Johnson Riverview Hotel